Is Being A Loner All That Bad?

A few weeks ago I went to New York to meet with the publisher of my book. One of the nice perks of the visit was that my publicist took me "shopping," as she called it, and let me take all the free books I could fit in my shoulder bag that usually carries diapers and baby chew toys but that day held nothing but train schedules and phone numbers. I looked through all the new books from the various houses that Avalon owns and picked out a few titles that looked interesting, including a book called Party of One: The Loner's Manifesto. When I picked up Party of One, my publicist said, "Oh, that one's great, especially if you're a loner." Then she paused. "Are you a loner?"
Andi Buchanan

Mother Shock
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  • For some reason, I froze. I couldn't answer. I stood there for a minute looking at the cover, a sheep standing alone in the middle of a rolling grassy plain. I felt that familiar twist in my gut, the high-school desire to be accepted. It took me a moment to realize I was actually worried about admitting to being a loner. How ridiculous, I thought, at the same time that I was also thinking, oh my God how embarrassing would it be to answer yes to that? Then Blanca said, "I'm a total loner." So I was free to hurriedly blurt, "Oh, yeah, me too."

    I took the book.

    I only started reading it yesterday, in hurried spurts whenever Emi wasn't freaking out because I forgot to call her "Blossom" from the Powerpuff Girls or whenever I wasn't also entertaining Nate, but even the little bit I've read has been interesting. It's eerie and comforting to read a paragraph here, a paragraph there, and realize someone is talking about you.

    For instance, I hate talking on the phone to people I don't know. Guess what? That's a loner trait. I refuse to go see movies that are hyped or read books that everyone raves about (okay, okay, I did finally read The Lovely Bones). I thought that's just because I was contrary and snobbish, but guess what? That's another common loner thing. I mean, I have known for a while that I'm more comfortable alone than in social situations, that I am exhausted by hanging out with lots of people at the same time, that I prefer having a few really close friends than a ton of acquaintances, but I guess I thought all those things were character flaws rather than just my character.

    Reading the book I keep nodding my head and thinking to myself, "Wow. I really am a loner!" Maybe that's as ridiculous as only realizing when you're 30 that you've been lactose-intolerant your whole life, but these are the kinds of things that slowly dawn on me.

    It has been comforting to read about people like me, since being a loner makes you feel like you're the only one who feels the way you do. And more than that it has been enlightening to read as a parent: the more I recognize myself in the author's descriptions, the more I recognize Emi. And that makes me feel so much better about things.

    You see, Emi is not a happy-go-lucky kind of kid. Don't get me wrong, she is a happy, wonderful, sensitive, amazingly perceptive little person who can be positively giddy when she is in a giddy sort of mood. But she's not always the "good girl" people expect her to be. She's not the kind of little girl who will just talk to you if you say hello in the elevator.

    She is not at ease when things are loud or new or strange. She's not instant friends with adults just because they say something silly, and she's not instant friends with other kids even if they're friendly. She needs time to warm up to things, she finds certain situations intimidating, she is often wiped out from interacting with her friends even when she's having fun.

    Without her "down time," just hanging out alone, she is cranky and miserable and she's only just now learning why. She doesn't want to have to be alone, but now when she is overwhelmed that has become her battle cry: "I need to be alone!"

    She doesn't really know it yet, but she's a loner.

    As a parent, I admit I am sometimes embarrassed by this. I admit that there are many, many times I wish she could be less complicated, more like the cute, uncomplicated little girls I see who smile and say "thank you" when someone comments on their shoes, instead of yelling, "I don't want anybody to see me!" It is much easier to be in public, interacting with other people -- which, of course, since I am a loner, is something stressful for me to do anyway -- when your kid is not the one freaking out because someone "looked" at her.

    Fellow loners, unite!
    But as a fellow loner, I feel compassion for her. I see how part of her dearly wants to not be bothered by scratchy tags and kids yelling, how she eyes her friend Zach as he scales a kitchen counter with unconflicted glee, how she reads her story about the brave fishy over and over, loving how he does the things all the other fish are scared to do. And so I bristle when her grandparents or other people say things like, "I just don't understand why she's not friendly," or "why is she always mad when we have to say goodbye," or "why do you coddle her so much? You're only making it worse."

    I am walking a fine line with her, trying to respect her temperament while giving her ways to cope with living in a world that mostly likely will not. It is hard to not dismiss her, hard to say, "What's wrong?" when she cries instead of "What's wrong NOW?" It's hard to not succumb to the doubts and stares of others, hard to resist the worry that maybe they're right, maybe I am coddling her, maybe there is something I'm doing that is really wrong, that is making everything worse. But the fact is that this is Emi, this is who she is, and I can no more make her "normal" than I can make myself call American Express to cancel my credit card without having butterflies in my stomach because I'm talking to a stranger.

    Mothering has been such a practice for me, and I mean that in the Zen sense of the word, a moving meditation, a mind-boggling koan I must continually puzzle out. Mothering has made me less of a loner, actually, as I've joined more groups and made more connections with other people out of sheer necessity in the last 3.5 years than I ever have in my life.

    Mothering has forced me out of my shell a little, and I've gotten better at things I never imagined I might feel comfortable doing, like making small-talk, participating in the social scene of playdates and hanging at the park or the museums with other moms. And now, with Emi, mothering delivers me another thing to practice.

    I am probably irritated more by traits she possesses that I recognize in me, but I am also more likely to be more forgiving and gentle with her over those things than I ever would be with myself. So when I am able to help her deal with her inevitable self without making herself feel bad about it, I'm also talking to myself, giving myself permission, too, to not be judged so harshly. We're both loners, Emi and I, but we're in this thing together.

    Yesterday, she and I watched that horse movie, "Spirit," after exhausting all other non-video entertainment possibilities. She wasn't all that into it and spent most of the movie making her dolls go swimming in a basin given to us by Pennsylvania Hospital when Nate was born. But one part was a little scary, and she couldn't tear herself away. Spirit set all the other horses free and ran down a mountainside to escape a runaway train or something (I was reading my loner book, so I'm not totally clear on the plot).

    Emi kept saying, "Oh no! What's going to happen?!" and I kept reassuring her that Spirit was going to be okay. When he finally was (thankfully), she said, "He saved all the horses, Mommy! Spirit was so brave!" I said, "Yeah, he sure was." She said, "I thought he was scared, but he was really brave instead," and I told her that, well, that's what being brave is all about: feeling scared and just doing it anyway. Something I think we loners find particularly

    Tags: loner

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